On the Beat With Mike Calabrese of Lake Street Dive: Keeping It Simple, the Way It Used to Be
Hi, I’m in my early thirties now and have been touring full time with my band Lake Street Dive for the past three years. The title of this post, kept intentionally vague, addresses an overarching ethos of my career that has been more and more important to hold on to as the years go by and our operation grows. It applies to many aspects of my daily life, both musical and otherwise, and it’s helped me grow and maintain a healthy spirit on and off the stage.
On the Stage
Remember when playing used to be just simply fun? Before it was also a job? I do! When you’re discouraged and self-critical about your playing, remember the feeling you had in the basement with your friends in your first band—zero self-consciousness and nothing but spirit. Your time was bad, you played too loud, you missed a bunch of cues. Who cared? That youthful energy is important, and we tend to lose sight of it, especially as we develop technically and demand from ourselves more and more perfection. It doesn’t matter how much you practice, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re playing it wrong. Simple!
Your tools should feel good too. I like using gear that is still made the way it used to be. My kit is a C&C with Bosphorus cymbals; two companies that use machines and techniques as old as the American music that was born from instruments just like them. You can hear it—wood and metal, no bells and whistles. The skill of the American craftsman used to be the standard in manufacturing, which is why I also use Vic Firth sticks and an auxiliary stave-built snare from Jeff Shallenberger at Sugar Percussion. They are master woodworkers who blend care and craft into musical tools that provide consistent support to the player. Advertisement
Off the Stage
Make sure you still climb trees and daydream like you did as a kid. Keeping your mind and body healthy is very important to musical development and essential, I would posit, to an enjoyable touring life. I use a combination of weight training and meditation to detangle the daily stress of the lifestyle. Repetitive, pattern-based exercise (aside from being just plain healthy) is good at working the body and mind simultaneously to a point of calm exhaustion that demands responsible nourishment and rest. I use transcendental meditation as that primary source of rest. It’s a mantra-based practice that relieves the mind of the intrinsic obligation to entertain every thought that passes through it, and it does so effortlessly at that. Twice a day for twenty minutes…and you come out of it feeling recharged and grateful for a few minutes of phone-less-ness.
Check out lakestreetdive.com for more info and a peek at the band’s new album, Side Pony.
Watch Lake Street Dive’s “I Don’t Care About You”:
Watch “Call Off Your Dogs” (Live at WFUV):